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   Re: Future of Formatting Objects (XSL/FO)

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  • From: Marcus Carr <mrc@allette.com.au>
  • To: xml-dev@XML.ORG
  • Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 09:42:42 +1000

Sebastian Rahtz wrote:

>  > Seriously, you overlook at least two well established practices - one is using a tool
>  > like FrameMaker+SGML to generate hardcopy. Its typesetting capabilities are well
>  > regarded amongst professional publishers
> They are?? Good gracious, I must have been talking to the wrong people...

Okay, I probably earned that one. I should have qualified it by putting it behind TeX - I
just must have lost my mind for a moment...:-)

>  > etc. The second is writing code to turn the data into something that a typesetting
>  > engine can render - before you discount that, remember that you already have to do
>  > this to create FOs.
> very very few people, you would agree, write code to go directly from
> SGML to PostScript.  surely the point of FOs is that the typesetting
> engine will be able to render FO language?

But now we're talking about a package consisiting of a syntax and an application. You need to
feed something to the engine, but what's the advantage is in feeding it FO over a proprietary

>  * FO gives us a common language with which to describe abstract
>    style. this is surely a good thing? a designer could specify a project
>    in terms of FO?

Sure, just as an analyst might communicate the design of stucture using a DTD, knowing that
the eventual mechanism used for parsing will be a schema. (I do this myself.) It may be a
good thing, but the lack of specification syntax hasn't exactly stopped publishing in the

>  * we do not have any good-enough typesetters at present. there is no
>    application you can point to which does an unequivocally good job
>    at typesetting (including non-Latin, math, page markup across a
>    range of pages, h&j, complex tables, non-rectangular layouts etc
>    etc). If FO kicks the development of new typesetting engines, then
>    I am all for it.

Do you really believe that someone's going to create something that you compare favourably to
TeX? I expect that David Megginson's posting may represent the view a large percentage of the
XML industry, that is, allow typesetting standards to degrade to what computer people feel
can reasonably be accomplished. If so, the day an FO application comes out that does as good
a typesetting job as Microsoft Word, victory will be joyfully declared.

> You are most convincing. I agree entirely. And yet I draw a different
> conclusion. FO can work, in its trivializing way, because people have
> learnt not to care. `Hamburger and coke' HTML has taught them that. We
> are, I predict, entering a period of rapid decline in typesetting
> standards. As a TeXxie, it saddens me hugely to see all the TeX work
> thrown away, but thats history for you.

Assuming that FOs do get on a roll - something that I'm not at all convinced will happen.
MathML has made little impact for exactly the same reason. My very limited understanding is
that a complex formula contains a certain amount of stylistic flair and that although the
appropriate building blocks need to be in place, people get very touchy when you suggest that
they're strictly functional. Presumably this new period in typesetting will include putting
those pesky scientists back in their boxes too, next to those of the typesetters.


Marcus Carr                      email:  mrc@allette.com.au
Allette Systems (Australia)      www:    http://www.allette.com.au
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
       - Einstein

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